Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, was born in Safad in 1935. His family sought refuge in Syria in 1948, when the first Middle East War broke out.
During his stay in Syria, he obtained a law degree in the University of Damascus.
He later went to Moscow to pursue a PhD degree in history in the Oriental Institute, during which he showed interest in the study of Israel and concentrated on Zionism.
Abbas has devoted much of his life to the struggle for an independent Palestinian state. He was a co-founder of the Palestine National Liberation Movement (Fatah) and has been a member of the Fatah's Central Committee since 1964.
In the 1970s, Abbas joined the PLO Executive Committee. Since 1977, he has begun contacts on behalf of the PLO with Israel's left-wingers.
In 1993, Abbas held 14 rounds of negotiations with Israel in the Norwegian capital Oslo, paving the way for the signing of the first peace deal between the Palestinians and Israel.
On Sept. 13, 1993, Abbas and the then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres signed the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, or the so-called Oslo Accords, in Washington.
In 1996, Abbas was elected secretary general of the PLO Executive Committee.
He became the first Palestinian prime minister in March 2003, but resigned six months later over disputes with late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on security and administration issues.
He was named chairman of the PLO Executive Committee after the death of Arafat on Nov. 11, 2004.